The late Will McDonough said of Tom Coughlin, in a conversation I had with McDonough back in 1995: "The guy can flat coach." Yeah, he sure can.
Coughlin's performance this season is one of his best. Reclaiming the team from Tiki Barber was a feat in itself, not to mention replacing Barber on the field, which Coughlin did very smoothly by taking Brandon Jacobs to a higher level and unearthing a rookie seventh-round pick named Ahmad Bradshaw, who's the best short running back to come along since you know who.
What a fantastic job Coughlin did in 2007. His best ever, right? Wrong. His best ever was in 2002, when Coughlin coached the Jaguars to a 6-10 record.
Ask Jack Del Rio. He'll tell you. It was a masterful coaching performance to do what Coughlin did with that team.
I'll never forget a moment following a press conference after a training camp practice. Coughlin was asked if his inaugural team in '95 had more talent than the '02 collection. He nodded his head and agreed with the assertion, causing us to look at Coughlin as though something was hanging from his nose.
As we walked up the hallway outside the Jaguars locker room, Coughlin stopped and waited for me to stroll alongside, at which point he asked me, "What just happened out there?" I told him he had just said his '95 team had more talent than his current team, expecting him to seek an immediate retraction. He thought about what I said for a moment, then nodded his head and walked away.
Alrighty then; no retraction necessary.
So it was that Coughlin coached that '02 team to six wins. More impressively, he lost five games by a total of 10 points.
Nothing spoke more clearly of his coaching ability than back-to-back losses against Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Against a Steelers team that held the ball for 38:41 and ran 22 more plays than the Jaguars, the Jaguars came within a two-point conversion of sending the game into overtime. A week later, the Jaguars lost to the Browns on an incorrectly ruled completion on a final-play-of-the-game Hail Mary. The Steelers and Browns each qualified for the playoffs that season.
Those two games represent one of the best two-week coaching performances I have ever seen. The Jaguars didn't commit a penalty in the Steelers game and didn't commit a turnover in either game. The Jaguars were out-manned and suffered a 27-and-a-half combined time of possession disadvantage in those two games, yet, they were still able to score 43 points and come within a whisker of two wins that might've saved Coughlin's job.
Coaching is all about wins. "It's a scoreboard business," Chuck Noll liked to say. "When you win, everything you say and do is great. When you lose …"
Coughlin's job was in jeopardy just a few weeks ago. Imagine that. Now he's coach for life. Well, not really. The winds of fate change direction quickly in the coaching profession.
This much, however, they can never take away from Coughlin: The guy can flat coach.